This is a tale of how I came home to Rome. Part Two of the Series
The first few weeks of college were difficult as I learned how to deal with strangers in an unfamiliar place. However, I eventually made the transition and blossomed in my classes. Beforehand, going to school meant being bored into near-physical pain. In college, though, I finally encountered an intellectual level that challenged me.
Because it was required to take a history course, I enrolled in European History 101.
To my surprise, I learned that until 1054 AD, there was only the Catholic Church. During the time of the Roman Empire, there was no secret community hiding in the catacombs while a separate, state-governed Catholic faith flourished. There had only ever been one Church, one Faith.
Then, the Eastern arm of the Church broke away due to doctrinal and political reasons. The next big break came in 1517 during Martin Luther’s reformation. The first Protestants calling themselves Baptists didn’t appear until the 17th century and the Southern Baptist Convention only came into existence in 1845.
The huge gap in time between the Southern Baptists and the Apostles stunned me. There was no continuity connecting my little country church to Christ but a series of fragmentations.
Years later, I came upon the following quote by Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman: “To be deep into history is to cease to be Protestant.” Cardinal Newman knew what he was talking about–he converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism.
However, I was not ready to be deep in history. I cordoned it all off in my mind in a little box called “secular”. What I learned in history class had no bearing on my spiritual life. I continued to believe the Baptist faith was the right one, the true one.
However, a part of me wanted to ask, “Why, if it’s the right faith, did no one teach it until the 19th century?”
I began dating for the first time in college and made many mistakes. The most defining mistake occurred in my sophomore year. I fell for a boy with dark hair and dark eyes and our relationship proved equally dark: obsessive and selfish, it revolved around sex and animal pleasure. I knew it was not what God wanted for me. So, I abandoned God, which left an aching hole where He used to be.
My boyfriend had been raised Catholic. Sometimes, we would discuss our beliefs, which inevitably led to debates that went long into the night. We argued over salvation, the Pope, and all sorts of things. He enjoyed it because, to him, it was a mental exercise. To me, I was trying to save his soul–even as we engaged in sinful behavior.
I had a secret, though. At some point, I decided I wanted a rosary. I’m not sure why; the beads suddenly looked beautiful to me and I wanted one.
I found a website that offered free rosaries and it wasn’t long before I had a white plastic rosary. It even came with instructions. I was already participating in fornication. What’s one more taboo? I began praying it, beads in one hand and instruction booklet in the other. There was no peace but the sense that someone loved me, deeply and truly. It made that ache in my heart hurt a little less.
That began a routine. Every day, on my way to my boyfriend’s after classes, I stopped at my dorm to pray the rosary. I never told him and I never took the rosary with me.
Obviously, I couldn’t stay away from God and started to attend church again. However, I came to see the Baptist faith as shallow, based on good feelings and a belief system that varied one community to another. I started attended a Methodist church with a friend because it had structure and a unified code of beliefs.
At the end of the year, I could no longer continue what I knew to be wrong and broke up with my boyfriend. As the campus emptied, I wandered it feeling as hollow as the classrooms. At the time, I thought it was my biggest heartbreak.
However, over the summer, he and I started to talk again about the intention of getting back together. I felt happy and ready to start anew. I genuinely believed he was the man I would marry after graduation.
Then, in late July, my father died. The young man did not come to the funeral. A day or two later, he told me he was moving with his parents to another state.
I suggested a long distance relationship or I could transfer schools. I had no clue how I was going to move or pay for school but I felt that, for true love, no sacrifice was too high. He told me that he needed his parents more than me. For the first time in my life, I seriously considered suicide.
I went back to school. I attended classes. I spent time with friends. I cried myself to sleep most nights and fell into a deep depression.
On the heels of that pain came more dissatisfaction with my spiritual life. I began researching again. I considered one denomination over another and eventually found myself reading about the Catholic Church. I found good, reliable sources that answered my questions. I mentally unboxed my history lessons and plunged into them, tackling the dilemma of the Catholic Church head-on.
I emerged convinced that every non-Catholic faith community owes its existence to someone leaving the Church. It only made sense, then, to return to the source.
In the spring following my father’s death, I crossed the Tiber into Rome, metaphorically speaking, and proudly made my Confirmation and First Holy Communion. Thus, ends my Catholic Conversion Story.
Eleven years later, I still have those first rosary beads. When I learned about the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, I was smitten because of the rosary on her arm and her request for everyone to pray it daily. I think Our Lady ushered me into the Church, quietly, and I will always be thankful.
You can follow Acacia St. Anthony on Twitter. All images are taken from Pixabay.